Looking Back

I've been thinking about my journey in photography, how it really started and what has made the most difference along the way. The images, moments, cameras, discussions, travels, exhibitions, or at least those that stick most in the memory.

I didn't photograph much before digital cameras, although I must have taken this shot on holiday in Scotland (aged about 10 I think):


Much respect if anyone can tell me the camera that my friend Craig has in the picture (I've no idea), or what the car is (that I do know).


I do clearly remember my first digital camera though, a Nikon Coolpix 775 from London Camera Exchange in Bristol. A mighty 2 megapixels and notoriously slow, not just to focus but just generally taking it's time to respond to any request to take a picture. As limited as it might seem now, it was an exciting little gadget to me at the time. I bought it just prior to a trip to Tunisia and took it there as my most treasured possession, rarely letting my girlfriend touch it despite her being a far better photographer than I was.


Bedouin woman, Tunisia, 2001 (Nikon 775)

That little Nikon went with me to Wales, Scotland, Canada, Belgium, France, Barbados and Thailand before finally deciding, a few years later, that enough was enough and refusing to take another image. One clear memory with it was from Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, feeling frustrated with my own limitations as much as the camera as I tried to make some silhouette images. That was the first time I realized I wanted (or maybe needed) to learn more about photography and how to be more creative in making images.


Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, 2004 (Nikon 775)

The first image from another photographer that inspired me was actually an HDR-style shot. It's by Trey Ratcliff, called The 4th of July on Lake Austin. I don't remember where I came across it and it's not the type of image that I'm drawn to now, but it was inspiring at the time as a demonstration of what photography can produce.


When the Nikon finally retired itself I switched to bridge cameras, the telephoto zoom variety, with first a Fujifilm Finepix S5500, then a Panasonic DMC-FZ28 as well as a little Canon IXUS 800. Not much brand loyalty then. Maybe it's unpopular to say that the cameras rather than the subjects provided inspiration, but for me it's certainly true, that each new camera has made me want to learn it and use it. And I think it was with the Panasonic that I gradually started to understand photography more fully. Experimenting with settings rather than just composition and framing. Realizing the limitations of relying on the camera too much.


Venice, 2013, Panasonic FZ28

One day in August 2013 I was standing on the street outside our apartment building in Paris, waiting for a delivery to arrive. The delivery service had tried and failed to deliver the previous day and I wasn't going to risk missing them again. After a long few hours, my Fujifilm X-E1 arrived. Not the classic X100 or XPro1 that were the introductions to the Fujifilm X-series for many, but the X-E1 was a revelation for me. I still have it and still shoot with it, in fact it's next to me as I type this, with the little 27mm lens, ready to go.

My first real photoshoot was with good friends, patient friends, near Versailles just outside Paris. Family portraits. I still like a few of the shots too. My first published images were again in Paris, in issue 3 (and on the cover) of the Fujifilm X Magazine. My first paid gig, my first headshots, my first wedding, my first exhibition, all with the X-E1.


Louvre, Paris, 2013 (Fujifilm X-E1)

Conversations were a big part of the learning process, often over a beer with good friends Chris Perez and Dan Smith. Sometimes technical, sometimes philosophical, always enjoyable (the beer and the conversations). Workshops with Richard Dumas and Claudine Doury (through the excellent Eyes In Progress) in particular helped an understanding of how to sequence and connect images into a collection.


Notre Dame, Paris, 2015

I gradually shifted from photographing urban landscapes to more street photography near the end of our stay in Paris and as we moved to Hoboken and Jersey City with Manhattan on the doorstep, and I think that's still evolving. Coming to the US also brought the opportunity to lead and teach a team of photographers, at Hoboken Grace church.


Another memory of a particular inspiration was from a rainy day in Washington DC and an impromptu visit to the National Portrait Gallery. The images, by Nicholas Nixon, were the portraits of his wife and her sisters, the Brown sisters, that he photographed every year for 40 years. I love the portraits, the simplicity, the mostly un-posed, slightly raw feel to them. But more than anything it was one of the first projects that particularly inspired me beyond individual images or the portfolio of any one photographer. The scale of the project and the power of combining images that make sense as a whole.


Which is really where I am today. Still loving street and portrait photography, and Fujifilm cameras, and the process of making images. But also trying to delve deeper into some meaningful projects, connecting images to tell a greater story or ask bigger questions. I could talk much more about the last few years in Jersey and New York but I think that's for another time, when it feels again like time to look back.

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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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